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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Spring is only 124 days away!

Oh how I wish I was somewhere where the rain don't bucket down and the wind blows cold air in my face!

Instead of local patch pics like this at Moorlands (a YWT reserve just outside York)

.................... I'd rather be gazing at something like this - a newly arrived Barn Swallow (Poiteau Charente, France)

........ and later, when we get home

Ah but one must grit and bear the cold and the wet, the wind and the grey to fully appreciate the glory of Spring, and by my calculations the beginning of Spring in the UK is only 124 days away .... doesn't feel like a long time to me and although I'm enthusiastic of course about the photographic opportunities of a winter in Yorkshire, I'd far sooner be warm, walking without wellies and gloves, and snapping up summer migrants!

Remember butterflies? 124 days to go before we can see them again so here's a couple from last year to be going on with ...... a Brimstone and a glorious Swallowtail.

I know that wasn't a very topical post but with grey skies and only 6 hours of good daylight at the moment we all need a gentle reminder of what's around the corner (especially S.A.D sufferers .... so this post is for you guys!)
Off to Leighton Moss tomorrow with my birding mate, staying over there for a couple of days so hopefully we'll have some decent birds and I'll get lucky with the camera ..... might even get a Bittern to make up for the one I dipped out on last week!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

'I hung my head' cover

I seem to have been thwarted by the weather over the past few days ....its either foggy, raining or both and when the sun eventually decided to shine this afternoon I find my route blocked in several directions by flood water! I can't remember a time when so much rain has fallen over the UK over such a sustained period of time.
With that most convenient 'should have' thought processes - hindsight, maybe I should have struck out on foot but I didn't get up till midday after being absorbed with the test match cricket from India from 4.00 this morning (yes I know, I'm bonkers!), so it had to be the car .... total wash out!
Not to worry, I plan to have 2 solid days birding next week with my pal Mark and with some strongish onshore winds brewing it could be good on the coast.
Meanwhile, I reminded myself that this is not just a birding blog and with no records to write up this afternoon I picked up my guitar and did a one take video of one of my favourite Johnny Cash songs 'I Hung My Head' ..... all a bit raw but with all the rigmarole involved with setting up sound, microphone etc in my front room I couldn't be bothered to record it again so here it is, hope you enjoy .... I don't think I've murdered it!
U tube Link here if the vid doesn't work - I hung my head vid

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nice Barn Owl makes up for Bittern no show!

My best mate rang me this morning at 07.15, thought he might have had a gripper but no he'd just got a random text I'd sent him the previous evening! I wasn't grumpy .... it got me up and so I should have been because my plan the previous evening was to get out to North Duffield, part of the Derwent Valley reserve and see if I could get the Bittern that has been seen there regularly for the past week or so.
Spent about 2 hours in the Geoffrey Smith hide along with several other early rising birders but alas no sign of said bird. As far as I can gather it was last seen on the 19th and we've had some 'weather' since then so maybe its wandered off to 'reed' pastures new. One of my blogging friends Andy Walker was a bit quicker off the mark ans has some good pics on his site of the bird here - A.W. Birder
Good selection of wildfowl there this morning with plenty of Shoveler, Mallard, Wigeon, Gadwall, Pintail, Teal and 'Tufties'. A distant female Marsh Harrier over reeds at Aughton was pleasing on the eye and we also had a couple of Sparrowhawks and there were about 180 Golden Plover amongst 400 or so Lapwings. Shame about the Bittern, I've only ever seen 2 in Yorkshire and none around my local patch.
The only other highlight was a daytime hunting Barn Owl along the river bank which at one point came close enough to photograph and probably gave me my best images to date of this bird in flight.

Monday, November 19, 2012

On Holiday & Birding in Sri Lanka

Some more, in fact quite a lot more, bird pics from Sri Lanka to bring a taste of the exotic to those of you currently shivering a bit to the north of the equator! Its maybe worth mentioning that this was a holiday for me and Gabz, not a birding trip. Apart from one visit to the Wilpattu reserve these are all shot within a few metres of our hotel, Ranwelli holiday village and like anywhere on the sub continent its clearly a hotspot for all kinds of birds, animals and flowers ..... there's also millions of people and they all seem to have at least 2 dogs so if you want to birdwatch do some research and my advice is to stick to the 20 or so national reserves! 
Anyway, back to the birds, and in no particular order .............
This is a female Asian Koel, incredibly shy birds and this was shot across the river and cropped to hell!
Equally shy and typically elusive during daylight hours I was lucky to look up and see this Black Crowned Night Heron standing stock rigid during a riverside walk.

Into the light and although not shot in the best of light this Blue Tailed Beeater strikes a typical post as it waits for passing bugs!

Another bug, this time in the 'Blogger' system, is currently preventing the resizing of anything more than 2 or 3 pics per post but until its sorted just click on them to enlarge.

There were plenty of terns passing south the whole time we were there, not all of them positively id'd as many were immature / going into winter plumage and decidedly tricky! These are definitely Great Crested Terns (pic right) but what about the 2nd one? Saw many similar to this and still not sure but I'm thinking Roseate Terns

A short walk out of the hotel and I found a small haven of semi jungle area by the river, I was soon disturbed by barking dogs from the nearest habitation of course but not before I'd spied a couple of woodpeckers across the river. They turned out to be Greater Flamebacks .... shame I couldn't get closer and at some 200 metres away this is just about maximum range for my lens. Still a reasonable ID shot though!

Indian Mynah birds were by far and away the commonest small bird ..... quirky, comical and of course great mimics. Sadly many of these end up in gilded cages for this ability, but I guess there's enough of them so hardly endangered as a species. Quite a good article here on them - Mynah birds

Have to say I'm not a great fan of crows, intelligent they may be but they do predate nests on a huge scale all over the world. Having said that the House Crows in Sri Lanka were quite fun to watch ..... they scavenge on anything edible of course but they also pick up anything shiny, presumably for nest decoration, and one of these blighters flew away with a packet of my tobacco! Would have made for a classic picture but I was so shocked .... I ran after the offending corvidt until he dropped it (contents spilled of course!)

The other common species of crow over there were Thick Billed or Jungle Crows which seemed to dwell mainly on the beach.



There was a pair of Brahminy Kites that flew over the hotel every day, usually mid afternoon, and seemed to be feeding on the sea. I saw them stooping and carrying off big fish on at least 2 occasions whilst we were on the beach .... both times my camera was back in the hotel room of course!
I expected to see more waders on the beach than I did but apart from a few groups of migrating Whimbrel and the occasional Common Sandpiper all I had were Red Wattled Lapwings but like many of the common birds in Sri Lanka this was of course a new bird for me and very photographable, especially in flight. (pics right & below)

Here's a couple of pictures of a Common Sandpiper, (above and left) one of the most globally widespread of waders in typical pose and location (above) but less typical in the 2nd pic .... almost looks like its about to nest on the beach!

Away from the hotel was a different story. I've already posted on our trip out to the Wilpattu reserve (Wilpattu Safari) and commented on the limited photographic opportunities for birds but here's a couple of distant shots I've had to significantly crop to make a picture, at some cost to image quality alas.

The first shows a group of Pheasant Tailed Jacanas involved in some kind of squabble and the second features from left to right, Black Headed Ibis, a familiar Black Winged Stilt and a Lesser Adjutant Stork. When I scanned more pics I was able to identify other waders such as Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper but no way could I make them into pictures.

There were lots of storks and allied water birds at Wilpattu and wish I'd had time to get to grips with them but maybe another time if I get the chance. The jeep did pass close enough for me to get this reasonable picture of  a Woolly Necked Stork as the Germans in the back seat gazed at a herd of deer.

Back at the hotel and this pic is just so typical of a bird I tried so hard to capture, a White Breasted Waterhen .... they were always walking away from me!

And finally, I've babbled on for far too long so I may end up looking like one of these ........ Yellow Beaked Babblers!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

At last a bright sunny day in York.

At last a bright and sunny day here in Yorkshire. I got myself out of course but alas my time was limited due to getting up late after some impromptu music (plus alcohol) last night with my sister and Mark and to boot my chosen destination, Strensall Common, was also the destination of many others plus their dogs ..... hardly saw a thing. A few Goldcrests,  Long Tailed Tits, Redwings, a couple of nice Bullfinches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Nothing came near enough to photograph apart from this rather obliging and Common Pheasant .... no it's not stuffed, he's just posing!!

Judging by the local weather forecast I may have a few hours tomorrow morning before the rain sets in for any birding or photography, in the meantime I still have some goodies from Sri Lanka to post including good Brahminy Kite shots and with nothing I want to watch on TV until later I may post again this evening.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sri Lankan odds and ends (plants and trees)

Ok, this is the first of a 2 or 3 Sri Lankan 'stocking fillers' .... the result of reviewing and selecting some of the hundreds of photographs I took whilst we were there. This mini post is devoted to the flora in and around our base near Ngombo and many of these pics were taken in and around the hotel grounds.

Like many tropical countries, there are of course a huge array of colourful plants and trees just about everywhere you look and I'm slightly disappointed that I didn't take more advantage but here's a small selection of Sri Lankan colour.



Blue Lotus flowers (or Purple Water Lilly) were growing inside the hotel complex and although lacking a bit of definition I was reasonably pleased with this passing shot.

Bouganvillea was everywhere in Sri Lanka and again this was one of several bushes within the hotel ... can you smell it yet?!

Red Hibiscus flower, outrageously exotic and part of a whole bush that had outgrown a nearby garden.

Had to google the name of this one, it's called Rathmal or Jungle Flame and again it grows everywhere.
The mysterious White Frangipani, the fragrant flower and source of many a candle and incense burner actually has no nectar and is often associated with death in Buddhist and Hindu culture.

A drab day in York, perfect for organizing photo files, and a chance Coal Tit

Another very drab and cloudy day here in Yorkshire, hopeless for any sort of photography but whilst I was clearing out some rubbish in the summerhouse this afternoon I did manage to capture a couple of half decent pictures of one of several Coal Tits that visit the feeders in my garden.

Apart from that it's been a perfect day for staying indoors and sorting out the many hundreds of images I have on my hard drive. A necessary part of any photographer's routine, some regard it as a chore but I can be happily consumed for hours examining any pictures I think are worthy of keeping, editing and putting them into folders for later use ..... only fellow photography geeks would want me to expand here on what is often referred to as 'image workflow' but this would be almost as drab to the majority as the weather is outside!

For anyone struggling though with what to do with all those digital images you've transferred to your PC or portable device here's one of many articles on the topic that may free up some of your image clutter! digital image workflow

It's well worth it, I've just found some odds and ends from my recent holiday in Sri Lanka with Gabz that are worth posting ...... just as soon as I've finished messing!

Anyone got any contributions or comments to make about how they go about sorting their digital images?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More info on Waxwings and recent UK sightings

Find out more about Wawings and if there have been any flocks reported near you by visiting this link - sightings

Or let me know here (leave a comment) if you've already seen any or heard about some in your area, I'd love to know.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Waxwing invasion gathers strength in York

Waxwings are spreading like a rash right across the country and at the moment there is no better place to see them than in the middle of York. I was on my way to a job interview this morning and spotted one perched in the top of a tree, then a few more on my way back. I always have the camera in the car (it's chipped, so don't even think about it!) so, looking slightly incongruous in pin striped suit, binocs and long lens I climbed the bar walls nr Bishopthorpe road and managed some half decent photographs. The light wasn't brilliant but the birds were closer than a few days ago, more of them (a fellow birder reckoned on about 300) and from the bar walls the shooting angle was much better.

No need for much more narrative (see my last post for more detail on these marvellous berry eating marauders from the North - Waxwing hunting in York ), so here's a selection from the shoot.

I played around with the light settings in this last shot to bring out the colours a bit more, the original showed little more than silhouettes in the sky, but as with several other of these pics you can see just how rampaging these birds are. They're a bit like locusts in a way, devouring and stripping the berries of trees before moving on en mass to find more! You can see why they're regarded as somewhat of a pest up in Scandinavia, pretty though they are. At this rate they'll soon eat all the berries in York and have to move on but this is what they do and my bet is that the UK influx will move further south into France and maybe Spain before the Winter is out.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Waxwing hunting in York

I went on a rather curious hunting expedition today in York city centre. Early Christmas shopping perhaps? Mmh .... if you knew me well you would know that this would never happen in a month of Micklemas sundays! No, I was of course scouting for birds ... yes out and about with binocs and camera amongst the shoppers and the tourists looking for some very particular birds that sometimes turn up in our cities and gardens in the winter - Waxwings.

They breed in more Northerly climes like Scandinavia and the Baltic states and a few winter here every year but every so often they arrive here in large numbers; this happens because every so often their food supply in the North is not able to sustain their numbers. Waxwings are big finch like birds, about the same size as a Starling, and they feed on flies and berries, they love berries, and this year by all accounts there's been a poor berry crop up in Scandinavia and so there we have it - lots of Waxwings have come to our shores this year. This kind of periodic influx is called an 'irruption' and occurs every 10 years or so as far as Waxwings are concerned and with several other bird species such as Crossbills and Redpolls.

Back to my Waxwing hunt then ...... I'd heard on the grapevine that there were a few flocks in York, some in Rawcliffe and some nr St Georges Field next to the river Ouse. No luck in Rawcliffe, but these birds are quite mobile so its a case of tracking them down. So on to St George's field and result ..... not many and all in big tree tops but at least 15 of these beauties were flying around catching flies in the late afternoon sun. They looked great through the binoculars but too high up in the trees to get any close up shots so I'm going to have another go tomorrow .... here's my best shots from today